Should your child be learning to code?

Coding is the buzzword of the 21st century. Many of the famous business names since 2000 have gained their reputation from creating tech sites, people like Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook), Jeff Bezos (Amazon), or Jimmy Wales (Wikipedia).

It’s at the heart of some of the most creative businesses around, stretching from Silicon Valley USA to Silicon Roundabout in London. Most recently Edinburgh has seen huge growth after an influx of new start-ups took off, including Skyscanner. Many of these companies pay eye-watering salaries that rival finance jobs.

The salaries may change over time. But one thing is for certain. The internet is not going away.

Is it worth spending the time on?

For people who haven’t grown up with technology in the same way our children have, the prospect of coding can seem quite daunting. It’s often referred to as a new ‘language’, and beneath that, there are a variety of different ‘dialects’ that can be learnt – from HTML through to Ruby on Rails. This all increases the mystique and confusion surrounding the whole thing.

When your child already has a packed schedule with school, extra tuition, music lessons and ex-curricular activities, learning all of this might appear like the straw that will break the camel’s back.

However coding shouldn’t be overestimated – it may not add too much strain to your child.

Coding is actually initially very easy to learn. Although it does work like a ‘language’, it isn’t like your child is being dropped in the deep end of an Arabic class. In particular, children, who are such fast learners, take to it like a duck to water. Many schools are being given the Raspberry Pi, designed to help children learn about computing.

Why learn?

Understandably, there is quite a debate over whether it is worth it, and there are some strong arguments against children learning to code.

First of all, it is a skill that needs to be kept up to date. It’s not like a sport where you can learn at School, and then come back to playing it in later life. The knowledge can quickly go out of date as the technology changes, so it is important to maintain a constant level of engagement.

Secondly, it is possible to learn to code at any stage of life – unlike like languages in which we benefit by it being ingrained at an early age. It is not essential that your child develop this skill at school.

Thirdly, there is also the danger (as discussed in this persuasive Guardian article) that suggesting children should code is tantamount to predicting the future, and compares it to the demand for Japanese in Schools in the 1980s. It’s very easy to spend a lot of your child’s time on something that could be obsolete by the time they would come to use it.

However, this view fundamentally ignores a key element of child development and education – the process of learning. It overlooks it in a purely results focussed view.

In the same way that people advocate learning a musical instrument as a good way to teach the need to stick at something difficult, learning discipline and organisation, coding can serve the same function. If a child is not so keen on music, it could provide a positive alternative. We may yet see the rise of ‘coding practice’.

There is also a hugely beneficial side to designing websites and platforms. Where some homework can appear unfulfilling because of the nature of the exercises, the best way to learn to code is create something tangible, like a website. The content can be anything that your child is interested in. Where they learn is by going through the process of hard work, getting over setbacks, and finally creating something exciting. The best part is that they will have something to show for it at the end.

I’m interested – how do I get them started?

If this sounds like something that you might be interested for your child then there are a number of options. Some schools run after school clubs, and www.coderdojo.com provides a great space for children to learn within groups. You can also start at home on www.codeacademy.com. This is a fun starter that is very easy to understand, and can be done with your child. Any more than this, it may be worth thinking about getting a tutor.

By Jonathan Coates

@coates_jonathan

Education Apps Review for 4-8 year olds

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With tablet computers and smartphones becoming ever-more ubiquitous, it is inevitable that they will eventually form an integral part of the educational landscape for our children. Indeed, that is already being borne out, to some degree, by the plethora of educational games and apps available for Apple’s family of products.
This month, we have taken a look at some of the free offerings aimed at children aged 4 to 8. While most of these apps would require in-app purchases in order to unlock the full degree of enriching content, they are free to download, and thus, free to test. If your child doesn’t take to it, you’re not out-of-pocket. Below are brief snapshots of apps covering a wide range of topics, from fundamental English and Maths, through to coding!

Little Pim- Offering a variety of languages, including Russian and Chinese, Little Pim effectively consists of flashcards, with accompanying audio, that help children learn a basic range of vocabulary in the chosen language. There is nothing too impressive here, however, the variety of languages on offer is great to whet the appetite for more!

Daisy the Dino – A great introduction to computer coding to young children, Daisy the Dino uses a dinosaur animation that the child controls using basic commands. This programme introduces children to the logic and sequencing commands used within more sophisticated programming. There are two modes, one allowing the player to create any sort of animation they choose, and another setting specific challenges that grow more complex as the child progresses. Hopscotch, the makers of this app, also make other coding apps, allowing children to progress to more difficult challenges once they have mastered the basics.

BrainPOP UK- BrainPOP provides a series of short educational videos across a range of subjects, including science, technology, and the arts. Children watch the videos, then take quizzes based on what they just watched. There are three free movies per subject area, with more available to purchase. This app is best suited for the older kids in the age group (7-8).

Planet Geo- Planet Geo presents children with a series of map-based challenges on various aspects of geography. Puzzles include locating UNESCO World Heritage Sites on a global map, fitting countries into their respective continents, grouping countries by location. There are 6 puzzle types, only one of which is entirely free, but with interesting geography puzzles and bold graphics, this app is a great way to challenge and extend geography knowledge.

Spellinglish- Spellinglish is a pretty straightforward spelling app. The app announces words and asks the children to spell them, keeping track of their statistics as they progress through the levels. The vocabulary is varied, and many of the words will be quite a challenge, even for the older children in this age group. However, it’s a great app for introducing new words, and stretching the abilities of those children with more developed spelling and phonics skills.

Language! – This app, by Tribalnova, has three very basic games contained within it covering vocabulary, sentence formation, and listening comprehension. While these games are likely to be vastly too simplistic for native English speakers, this app would be a great way of helping very young children who are learning English to grasp the basics. The vocabulary and listening games require children to identify items that are hidden around the screen, while the sentence formation game presents them with a selection of verbs and nouns in picture form, and asks them to create short sentences by placing the words in a sensible order.

Johnny Grammar’s Word Challenge – This app, produced by the British Council, is perhaps the best entirely free grammar and spelling app available. Children can choose from ‘Grammar’, ‘Words’, or ‘Spelling’ categories, and choose their level of difficulty within each category, allowing the app to grow with the child’s abilities. Each category has a selection of interesting topics to choose from, and the app produces a quiz on each. This app also introduces a number of unique language challenges, including introducing young children to idiomatic expressions and the foundations of more complex grammar.

Storytelling- The Storytelling app walks children through three activities related to a single story- reading it, illustrating it, and writing it. Children read along with an illustrated story to familiarise themselves with it. They can then complete a challenge wherein they match illustrations from the story with the appropriate story point. Finally, they are able to use the illustrations from the story as inspiration for their own story. This app is a great way to introduce young children to key storytelling concepts such as structuring and presenting, describing, and resolving problems or conflicts.

Grammaropolis- Grammaropolis walks children through the different parts of speech, such as nouns, verbs, and interjections. Taking a page from Schoolhouse Rock, each section presents a series of short videos which explain and demonstrate the usage of the part of speech in questions, after which children complete quizzes which demonstrate what they’ve learned. The videos are catchy and colourful, and are a great way to make learning grammar less dry!

Maths Trainer- This app is great for addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division drills. There are no frills here, just basic question and answer. Despite the basic nature of the app, it is a good app for helping children practice basic calculations.

DoodleMaths- DoodleMaths is a very comprehensive maths app. To begin with, children complete an assessment that determines their strengths and weaknesses across numerous mathematics topics, including calculations, geometry, and fractions and decimals. Once the app has determined the child’s strengths and weaknesses, it presents daily maths problems to build competency. Covering a vast range of problem types, as well as accommodating the child’s age and ability level, this is a great app to try!

Maths Wiz- Another quiz-style app, Maths Wiz covers a range of topics from addition through to basic geometry. Children can either complete quizzes, or enter ‘study mode’ which presents them with a range of questions and tracks the ones that they perform the best on. While not as sophisticated as DoddleMaths, this app allows children to practice different maths subjects, and to progress to more difficult material as they master one area.

Maths, Age 3-5 / 4-6 – These apps, part of a series aimed to grow with the child, begins with the very basics, such as sorting, matching, counting, and comparing, and progresses to more basic calculations. These apps are a great way to introduce young children to the concepts that form the foundations of a strong understanding of maths in a way that doesn’t necessarily focus on numbers.